Signs of the Times (6/18/12)

Study Challenges Tax Exemption for Religious Organizations

How much money does the U.S. government forgo by not taxing religious institutions? According to a recent study, perhaps as much as $71 billion a year. The study examined U.S. tax laws to estimate the total cost of tax exemptions for religious institutions — on property, donations, business enterprises, capital gains and “parsonage allowances,” which permit clergy to deduct housing costs. U.S. tax law grants religious groups and other nonprofits the exemptions because of their charitable nature. The report appears in the current issue of Free Inquiry magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism, an organization of nontheists. The findings have raised eyebrows in the nontheist community, which has long sought to eliminate the tax exemptions.

  • As the end-times move forward, the religious tax exemption will be used to pressure churches to toe the secular humanist line or be abolished altogether.

G20 Summit Opens in Mexico

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin need one another, an uncomfortable truth for the superpower leader facing a tough re-election and the newly elected Russian leader who is deeply suspicious of the United States. The two men will use their meeting Monday, the first since Putin returned to Russia’s top job, to gain leverage. However, the rest of the Group of 20 economic meeting will be devoted to the European fiscal crisis and the fate of Greece as a part of the euro zone. The G-20 gathering is a natural forum for sideline discussions of the urgent crisis in Syria as well as diplomatic efforts to head off a confrontation with Iran. Russia is a linchpin in world efforts to resolve both crises, and to U.S. goals for the smooth shutdown of the war in Afghanistan. In the longer term, Obama wants Russia’s continued cooperation in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

U.S. & China Lose the Most Natural Resources

The United States and China posted dramatic economic growth but also an irreversible loss in natural resources in the last two decades that will harm future generations, a new United Nations’ sustainability index shows. The index, unveiled this week as the U.N.’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development begins June 20 in Brazil, shows that 19 of 20 countries surveyed lost considerable natural resources such as fossil fuels, forests and fisheries between 1990 to 2008. The U.S. lost 20% per capita while China lost 17% per capital. “Rio+20 is an opportunity to call time on Gross Domestic Product as a measure of prosperity in the 21st century,” said the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. In a press release, he said the world is “too silent” on many measures of human well-being such as poverty and natural resources.

  • U.N. globalists will seek to use ‘sustainability’ along with climate change as the means to establish their socialistic policies worldwide

Gay Teens Less Likely to be Happy Than Straight Peers

According to a new study, teenagers who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are less likely to be happy, more likely to report harassment, and more inclined to experiment with drugs and alcohol than their straight peers, the Los Angeles Times reports. Of the more than 10,000 gay 13- to 17-year-olds surveyed, only around 40 percent described themselves as “happy,” compared to nearly 70 percent of straight teens. Fifty-two percent had experimented with drugs or alcohol — more than twice what their straight peers reported — and 17 percent said they had been assaulted at school, compared with 10 percent of straight youth.

  • Since homosexuality is unnatural, it serves as a poor foundation for life in general

Internet Search Results may Deliver Tainted Links

Internet search results have surpassed e-mail as the main way cybercriminals attempt to victimize Internet users. Researchers found criminals are poisoning the search results consumers receive when searching on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search services — and at a rate four times more frequently than they are sending tainted links through e-mail. The end game in each case is to get you to fall for scams or to infect and take control of your PC. The bad guys are turning to tainted search results because e-mail defenses have gotten tighter, and most people are now on the lookout for suspicious email messages.

Economic News

Manufacturing output contracted in May for the second time in three months, a worrisome signs the American economy is cooling. Factory production shrank 0.4 percent last month, the Federal Reserve said on Friday. Until recently, manufacturing had been a buttress of strength for the U.S. economy. The economy isn’t growing fast enough to create the number of jobs the country needs to achieve a stronger recovery, says Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Foreign demand for U.S. Treasury securities rose to a record high in April. China, the largest buyer of Treasury debt, increased its holdings slightly after trimming them for two straight months. Total foreign holdings rose 0.4% to $5.16 trillion. It was the fourth consecutive monthly increase. Demand for U.S. debt is rising largely because investors are worried about Europe’s worsening debt crisis. U.S. government debt is considered one of the safest investments.

  • Increased foreign holdings of U.S. debt also means increased leverage over U.S. policy

Greece

Greek election victor Antonis Samaras said Monday he will continue efforts to build a broad coalition government, despite a refusal from the second-placed Syriza radical left party to join in. New Democracy came first in national elections Sunday, but without enough seats in Parliament to govern alone. Greek voters rejected a leftist coalition that had promised to toss out the stringent terms of Greece’s bailout, which could have led to the country abandoning the euro currency and thrown financial markets into turmoil. The New Democracy Party has said it generally backs the bailout deal. “The Greek people today voted for Greece to remain on its European path and in the eurozone,” Samaras said.

Middle East

Militants crossed from Egypt’s turbulent Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel on Monday and opened fire on civilians building a border security fence, defense officials said. One of the Israeli workers was killed, and two assailants died in a gun battle with Israeli troops responding to the attack. Troops were scouring the area to see if other gunmen remained on the loose inside Israel. Israelis living in five small communities in the area were instructed to lock themselves inside their homes, and two major southern roads were closed to civilian traffic. The attack underscored the growing lawlessness in the Sinai desert since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising last year.

More than fifty international groups and United Nations agencies have issued a statement calling for Israel to end the security blockade that prevents weapons from being shipped to the terrorists in Gaza. The blockade was put in place when the Hamas movement took control of Gaza. Hamas has been and remains officially committed to the destruction of Israel.

Egypt

The winner of the presidential runoff held this weekend will be officially announced on Thursday. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful political group, claimed early Monday that its candidate, Mohammed Morsi, had defeated Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister. Egypt’s official news agency is quoting a senior member of the ruling military council as saying the generals will hand over power to the newly elected president at the end of the month. With parliament dissolved and martial law effectively in force, the generals issued an interim constitution granting themselves sweeping authorities that ensure their hold on the state and subordinate the president. But as they claimed a narrow victory over Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq in a deeply polarizing election, the Brotherhood challenged the military’s power grab. The group said Sunday it did not recognize the dissolution of parliament, where it was the largest party. It also rejected the military’s right to issue an interim constitution and oversee the drafting of a new one.

Syria

The chief of U.N. observers in Syria says the mission is suspending its activities and patrols because of escalating violence in the country. The bloodshed is posing significant risks to the observers and is impeding their ability to carry out their mandate. The suspension is the latest sign that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan is disintegrating. The regime and the opposition have both ignored the cease-fire, which was supposed to go into effect April 12.The suspension will be reviewed on a daily basis.

Iran

Iran says about 20 suspects have been arrested for alleged links to assassinations of Iranian nuclear experts that Tehran claims is part of covert operations led by Israel. Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi claims the suspects moved between Iran and Israel through Azerbaijan which he said has been harboring terrorists linked to Israel. At least five Iranian nuclear experts have been killed since 2010. The U.S. and Britain have denied any roles, but Israel has remained silent on Iran’s accusations.

Iraq

Two car bombs in Iraq’s capital killed at least 26 people Saturday on the last day of a Shiite pilgrimage already hit by multiple bombings. The blasts, one in a heavily guarded area close to a revered shrine, raised the week’s death toll to more than 100 and cast further doubt on the divided government’s ability to secure the country after the American withdrawal.

Pakistan

A car bomb exploded at a crowded bazaar in a northwestern Pakistani tribal region near the border with Afghanistan on Saturday, killing 15 people and wounding 35 others. Several shops and vehicles were also badly damaged in the attack in the Khyber tribal region near the main border crossing point of Torkham. Suspicion fell on Pakistani Taliban who often target security forces and public places with bombings and shooting attacks.

Afghanistan

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan’s key opium producing region has declined 40% over the past four years as coalition and government forces have secured key towns and villages and the Afghan government has ramped up eradication. Since insurgents are supported by drug revenues, the decline in poppy cultivation has cut into the Taliban’s ability to launch operations. Afghanistan is the source of more than 90% of the world’s heroin poppies.

Yemen

Security officials say a suicide bomber has killed the army general leading the fight against al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen. The officials say Maj. Gen. Salem Ali al-Quton was killed Monday while on his way to work. The bomber threw himself at the general’s SUV in the southern port city of Aden. Four members of the general’s security detail and a passer-by were seriously wounded.

Nigeria

In the wake of separate attacks on two churches during worship services June 10 in northern Nigeria by members of the radical Muslim group Boko Haram, the Islamists vowed to continue their killing campaign until they succeed in establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria, ASSIST News Service reports. “The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies, and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of the secular state,” said Abul Qaqa, Boko Haram’s spokesman.

Earthquakes

Philippine officials say a strong quake has jolted Manila and outlying provinces, rousing some people from their sleep. There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries. The Sunday-morning quake has a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 on the Richter scale. The quake was not strong enough to generate a tsunami alert.

Wildfires

Winds of up to 50 miles per hour have grounded the aircraft helping fight the High Park Fire and sent a blanket of smoke into Fort Collins. Meanwhile, more homes are being evacuated north of the burn perimeter in case the fire spreads above Poudre Canyon. Grim totals are emerging from areas burned in the 88-square-mile High Park Fire, and the week-old blaze now is considered the most devastating wildfire in state history. The fire already has destroyed more than 181 homes, more than any other in the state. As of Monday morning, the High Park Fire was 45 percent contained, fire officials said. But more than 700 homes are within the perimeter of the fire about 15 miles west of Fort Collins. The fire’s growth potential remains “extreme,” the terrain is “difficult,” and 1,631 people are involved in the fight. Since the fire began with a lightning strike at about 6 a.m. June 9, more than 3,000 evacuations have been ordered; about a third of those have been lifted. A 62-year-old woman died in the wildfire when her cabin burned.

Fire has burned through one-quarter of Arizona’s ponderosa-pine and mixed-confier forests just in the past decade, leaving a blackened mosaic across 1 million acres. In all, nearly 4 million acres of Arizona’s forests, grasslands and deserts — an area slightly larger than Connecticut — have burned since 2002. With the high country embrittled by drought again this year, forest managers hold their breath every time another fire flares, fearful that it will rage out of control and wipe out another stand of ponderosas. One monster fire every 10 years could burn through what’s left in a generation.

A major fire south of the Greek capital raged for the second day Sunday, as gale-force winds were rekindling the flames and three new fronts broke out. Local officials said several homes had been burned, while three firefighters were injured. More than 250 firefighters and soldiers using more than 60 vehicles were battling the flames in a sparsely populated area south of Athens. Greece appealed to the European Union for help. Italy was sending another two water-dropping planes Sunday morning. Four people were to appear in court later Sunday after being arrested for allegedly accidentally causing the blaze while carrying out welding work at a construction site.

Weather

Thunderstorms damaged barns, blew out power and brought golf-ball sized hail to southern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota Sunday and early Monday. A tornado touched down in Traverse County, Minn., but no major damage was reported. Winds had gusts of around 75 miles an hour in Swift and Meeker counties, damaging some farm buildings. Hail 2-inches in diameter were reported in Le Sueur, Rice and Goodhue counties.

Hurricane Carlotta pushed northward toward the resort city of Acapulco on Saturday after making landfall near the Mexican beach town of Puerto Escondido, where it toppled trees and shook tourist hotels. Two people were killed. Earlier Friday, Carlotta had toppled billboards and shattered some windows in Puerto Escondido, a laid-back port popular with surfers, where it reached land as a Category 1 hurricane. Oaxaca’s civil protection service said some roads near the resorts of Huatulco and Pochutla were affected by mudslides, and that authorities had opened emergency shelters and evacuated dozens of families from low-lying areas. Officials downgraded Carlotta from a hurricane to a tropical storm later Saturday as it weakened while moving across southern Mexico.

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